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Press Release:

MOPIX in the News

Making Movies Reel for the Blind

Daily News, New York Now
by Lewis Beale
November 1, 1999

When "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" opened last summer, Carl Augusto went to see it with his family. It was the first time in nearly 20 years that he, his wife and kids attended the movies together.

That's because Augusto is blind.

But thanks to a new technology currently being installed in theaters around the country, millions of blind and hearing-impaired people can enjoy first-run movies in new and exciting ways.

Currently available in the metro area at only one theater the Clifton Commons in N.J. the system has two components:

For the blind, the Descriptive Video Service features a headset with narration describing onscreen actions. For instance: "She takes the pitcher of water and places it on the table."

"It's like listening to old-time radio," says Ed Lucas, who works at St. Joseph's School for the Blind in Jersey City. "The [narration] makes you feel you're part of the movie, gives you the feeling someone is sitting next to you and describing things to you."

The system for the hearing-impaired, called Rear Window Captioning, is similar to TV closed-captioning. In this case, a digital screen in the back of the theater displays dialogue from the film. Patrons are given what looks like a large rear-view mirror that fits into a seat cupholder and reflects the dialogue. The mirror can be adjusted to individual specifications.

"Closed-captioning [on TV] sometimes interferes with the picture," said Beverly Sudler, a hearing-impaired woman from Union, N.J., who hadn't attended a movie in 10 years until Rear Window Captioning became available. With the new system, "you can move the reflector to where you want it, and it doesn't interfere with the picture. It enables me to enjoy the movies again and know what's going on."

Both technologies were developed by Boston public-TV station WGBH, which has been involved with closed-captioning since 1972. It costs $ 15,000 to install the dual system in a theater (including 15-20 headsets and reflectors), plus $ 12,000 to caption and describe a feature-length film (which is paid for by the film studio).

Right now, however, films and theaters are in short supply. General Cinema is the only major chain to install the system, but it's in only eight of their theaters. And just two studios, Fox and Sony, have provided captioned and narrated prints for "Phantom Menace," "Big Daddy" and "Random Hearts."

There are a few other area venues that help the hearing-impaired. Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater has long had a monthly series of captioned first-run films ("Three Kings" is showing Nov. 2), and every Sony theater offers special listening devices that amplify the sound for the hard-of-hearing.

But WGBH's system is the first one that takes care of both the blind and the hearing-impaired.

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